Boston Strangler: Is the Movie Based on a Real Killer?

Image Credit: Claire Folger/ 20th Century Studios

Disney Plus’s ‘Boston Strangler’ is a period crime drama film that follows the story of two journalists, Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole, who connect a series of murders. As the murders continue to happen, they push for an investigation, but their efforts are hindered by their superiors. The police also seem to have negligent interest in the case until it all blows up and the situation gets dire in the city. Directed by Matt Ruskin, the film is a gripping detective story where the protagonists battle misogyny and sexism while dealing with the danger of the serial killer targeting them for trying to expose him. This chilling story might make you wonder if it’s inspired by true events. Let’s find out.

Boston Strangler: True Tale of a Murder Mystery

Yes, ‘Boston Strangler’ is based on true events. It follows the case of the real-life Boston Strangler who is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of at least 13 women during the early 60s in Boston, Massachusetts. Some of the murders took place in the surrounding cities as well. All the victims were in the age bracket of 19 and 85 and were single. They were sexually assaulted and strangled with a pair of stockings, which also lent it the name Silk Stocking Murders.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Eventually, a man named Albert DeSalvo was confirmed to have been the Boston Strangler, but it is believed that some of the murders were committed by copycat killers. In 2013, DNA evidence confirmed that one of the victims, Mary Sullivan, had been killed by him. The same couldn’t be confirmed for the other twelve murders. The case has been previously adapted into a 1968 film starring Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda and has been a topic for several podcasts and non-fiction books over the years.

Matt Ruskin had heard about the case before, but while thinking about a new project, he started to look into the story in depth. While reading about the murders as interesting, Ruskin became fascinated with the two women who first discovered the links between the murders and became instrumental in bringing the case to public attention. “I started reading everything I could get my hands on and discovered this really fascinating and horrifying murder mystery that I knew nothing about,” he said.

It was after he heard an interview with Loretta McLaughlin that he decided to follow the story from her perspective. This meant it would be a “character-driven story,” which required the writer-director to get into the details of the duo’s personal lives. It turned out to be very difficult because very little information was available about them. Then, he discovered that he had a connection to Jean Cole. He is friends with Cole’s granddaughter. Through her, he got in touch with McLaughlin and Cole’s children, who painted a “vivid” picture of the women.

One of the film’s key plot points is the sexism that McLaughlin and Cole have to face. They come up with a sound theory about how the murders are connected, but no one takes them seriously. It was important for the filmmakers to present this struggle that the duo faced from the people who were supposed to support them. “Newsrooms were male-dominated environments, and there were few women doing serious investigative journalism. They came up against challenges in the workplace and at home when women were not expected to have careers when they had families,” the director said.

Once he knew what the film would be about and how the events would unravel, Ruskin started looking towards other films that had tackled similar themes before. He was particularly influenced by David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac,’ which follows a similar premise of investigative journalists trying to track down a serial killer. He also looked at Fincher’s other works and found inspiration in ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘Jeanne Dielman’ for various aspects of the film.

Ruskin was drawn towards McLaughlin and Cole and their work and felt “their story was a story worth telling.” He hopes people respond to “this layered murder mystery,” which is also “a really inspiring story about a couple of journalists hellbent on doing the work they’re passionate about.” He revealed that while almost everything in the movie happened in real life, some events and dialogues have been dramatized for the purpose of storytelling. The timeline, in some cases, has been tinkered with to “preserve a sense of momentum and continuity” in the film, but that does nothing to take away the message he intends the audience to take away from it.

Read More: Where Was Boston Strangler Filmed?